New rules say no farm or exotic animals and limit racing pigeons

The Baltimore Sun

Attention, city residents: You may no longer keep your mongoose at home.

The Baltimore City Health Department finalized regulations yesterday regarding which exotic pets and farm animals are permitted in homes. No bears, bats, ostriches, kangaroos, monkeys or mongooses as city pets. And Baltimore's avid pigeon racers will be able to keep up to 125 pigeons each - a concession from city health officials after many fanciers squawked at an early proposal to limit ownership to 50.

"In the city, we are trying to keep people from having exotic animals that they are really not trained or educated to maintain," said Olivia Farrow, Baltimore's assistant commissioner for environmental health.

Those who love dogs, cats and fish are unaffected by the new regulations. But owners of more unconventional pets are bristling at the new restrictions, which come after the health department solicited public comments in February on regulating exotic pets. The rules go into effect Oct. 6.

"It's unfair," said Mike Sadler of Southwest Baltimore, part of a small but enthusiastic group of Baltimore pigeon racers. He's been racing pigeons for 25 years by taking them to far-off areas and getting them to fly home. The new rule will force him to reduce his flock, which has at times grown to 300 birds.

"It's definitely going to affect the racing sport," he said. "I mean, that's what kept me out of trouble when I younger."

In addition to the limit on volume, the new regulations restrict pigeon exercise to three daily sessions, and bird owners will have to pay a one-time $80 fee.

While some of the rules regarding exotic pets were already in the city's health code - including those regarding snakes and reptiles - many of the specific details released yesterday are new.

Green iguanas smaller than 30 inches and larger than 5 feet are out. Vietnamese potbellied pigs are OK, as long as they don't grow to more than 150 pounds.

All even-toed ungulates - deer, goats, sheep and the like - are banned as pets.

Holli Friedland, the adoption coordinator for a reptile and amphibian rescue program in Baltimore County, took particular issue with the rule regarding green iguanas. The rule is designed to prevent unsuspecting pet owners from buying babies who grow to 5, 6 or 7 feet in length, according to city officials.

"So I guess you can have one in the middle of its life and then you'll have to get rid of it?" Friedland said. "That basically outlaws iguanas."

Her own iguana, a mature reptile she keeps in a 7-foot cage, will stay put for now - she's a county resident. "Thank God," she said.

Friedland said she has reptile-loving friends, though, who might have to find alternative homes for their pets.

The new regulations do allow for exceptions, particularly in the case of people trained to care for more unconventional pets, said city Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein. "People can apply for an exemption," he said. "It's not an absolute prohibition."

In a city where yards are tiny and infrequent, and where odors pass easily from rowhouse to rowhouse, the new laws are designed to keep exotic pets out of areas where they can become a nuisance, said city officials.

"Over the years, we've received a lot of complaints, in regards to odors, to pigeon waste on property," Farrow said. Other concerns about exotic pets include small children handling potentially dangerous animals and the danger of salmonella that comes from the skin of baby iguanas.

But some pet owners disputed the contention that their pets are a divisive factor in their neighborhoods.

Sadler, a third-generation pigeon racer, said that his pigeon races have become a neighborhood affair, and children love to pick their favorite birds. He lives in a rowhouse, keeps his pigeon coop in his backyard and says he has never gotten a complaint.

"As soon as they land, they come in," he said of his birds. "They don't sit on houses, they don't sit on wires - there's a lot of difference between street pigeons and racing pigeons. One hundred twenty-five - it's gonna be tough."

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